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Josh Bersin: Don’t forget about deskless workers

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HR analyst Josh Bersin has warned HR directors not to ignore the experience of deskless workers when improving the workplace.

Despite constituting an estimated 70% of the global workforce, this group, encompassing, among others, retail assistants, doctors, nurses and construction workers, have been overlooked in the move to remote working, and Bersin says HR needs a better solution.

Speaking to HR magazine, he said: “These employees are vital. When the deskless workforce feels unsafe or poorly treated, a company’s entire operating model can be impacted.

“Now, companies desperately want to retain and attract these people as the job market becomes ever more competitive.”


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Job design is crucial to appreciating the unique needs of deskless workers, yet a Josh Bersin Company report found just 6% of employers in manufacturing and 7% in consumer goods embed time to rest, reinvent and innovate in their jobs.

In white-collar sectors, like technology and professional services for example, 21% and 29% of firms respectively design jobs with time to allow for rest and creativity.

Adequate training is also lacking in majority deskless sectors, as just 11% of hospitality companies invest in developing leaders at all levels, compared with 75% of pharmaceutical companies.

Bersin added: “Our discussions with employers show that employee experience (EX) for these workers is unique: they need special mobile technology, kiosks, scheduling systems, and workforce safety solutions, they may not even use email for communications, and many of them are on the road or in remote locations without access to employee portals or other standard ‘desk’ worker tools.”

The solution, he said, is for HR to be part of a cross-functional team bringing operations, facilities, and IT together to improve deskless workers’ lives.

“Organisations that do this well (like UPS, for example) end up with highly engaged teams, reduced turnover and fantastic customer service,” Bersin said.

“Our EX research shows that only about 20% of companies do this very well, so there’s a lot of investment needed in this area.”

Other recommendations from the report include improving commutes; making roles future-proof to avoid automation; opting for mobile work platforms instead of desktop ones; and, as just 13% of deskless workers globally are entitled to paid sick leave, expanding wellbeing benefits to encompass all employees.

Bersin added: “Let’s build a new deskless reality that’s not a second-class version of deskbound work but, instead is first class and second to none. We owe it to the people who power our lives.”